Thoughts on life, leadership and the movement called the church by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rules of Storytelling

I cannot tell you how many people have asked me, "Was that story you told yesterday actually true?"  I guess it was so outrageous that it was pretty hard to believe.  The answer is: Yes.  It's true.  And I thought it would provide a good opportunity for me to talk a little about storytelling as illustration in any kind of public speaking - whether it's a sermon or a lecture or a speech.

First, if you weren't at PCC yesterday, you might want to click here and go 40 minutes and 35 seconds into the video and listen to the story.

Here are FOUR rules I practice in storytelling:

1) Exaggeration is ok.  Most of the time, I look for ways to insert an absurdity.  Strategically placed, these accomplish 2 things: 1- they make the story fun and funny, 2- absurdities tell the listener, "that part is an embellishment."  In this particular story, I said something like, "I was so mad, I pumped iron like the old Arnold..."  Well, that's clearly not true.  But it's also clearly an embellishment.  It's so absurd that it cannot possibly be true.

2) Fabrication is NOT ok.  Often, I will change unimportant details or insignificant timelines in order to make the story better, make it tell better, etc.  But the heart and message of the story must be true.  I would never say, "I was at the Grand Canyon one day..." if I had never been to the Grand Canyon.  I would never take the story to the point of saying, "I felt like God was telling me..." if I didn't feel God telling me.  Do you see the difference?  This is critical for any public speaker of any kind - it's a matter of integrity.

3) Always protect the innocent.   There were critical details of the story I told yesterday that I DID change in order to protect the identity of the one who took my shoes.  Facts like location, time and even whether it was actually a pair of shoes (for all you know, it could have been a shirt) - all of that is irrelevant to the story itself.  But making those adjustments ensures that if that person were to show up in church, neither that person nor anyone else would know who I was talking about.  The essence of the story is preserved, but identities are carefully protected.  This takes a lot of time and practice.

4) Stories take us somewhere.  The point of a story is to illustrate.  It's not just to be funny.  The story is not an end, it's a mean to an end.  Let the crafting of the story take us to a better place - a place that is beyond the details of the story and a application that is beyond the storyteller.

The story I told yesterday was absolutely true.  And I apply the principles above to all the stories I tell.  Stories make or break a message.  They allow the truth of Scripture to come to life in a relevant way and help people bridge the gap that consists of the 2000 years since the Bible was written.  It's important that we tell them well, that we do it with integrity, protect the innocent along the way, and use story as a means to an end.

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